On a fine Easter morning, our family set out on a daytrip and we found a stone island in the Baltic Sea with the ruins of a building. It was the Fish Factory pumping station, built in the1980s. Over 20 years since it was built, it has never been exploired. The monument of industrial architecture from the Soviet era was transformed into a vacation home for ourselves. Our vacation home was registered as Easter Island. The original Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean was also discovered at Easter and the images of the stone Moai are perforated in the sliding shutters of our home.
HISTORY OF THE ISLAND, SITE PLAN The original drafts designed by collective farm Banga engineers in 1980 reveal an extremely ambitious plan. An island was built 230 m from the shore, constructed of 33 thousand m³ of huge boulders, some as heavy as 1.5 t. 288 piles were driven eight meters deep, huge amounts of concrete were poured and pumps installed. The banks of the island are constructed of granite boulder riprap.
The red-brick Pumping Station is an unpretentious, linear, one-story, L-shaped building, which over the past 20 years has become a local landmark, a monument of Soviet industrial architecture. With the passing of time, the island has altered the contours of the Kaltene shoreline - on the Kolka side, tides have created a sandy beach.
The island is geometrical in shape, a 63 x 71 m rectangle. The mole leading out to the island is a stone embankment, 172 m long. Under the road running along the top of the mole are the water pipes and power cables of the pumping station. In front of the oblong building is a spacious, asphalted area. On the seaward side at the back is a rectangular hollow – a pool that is partially filled up with silt.
THE ISLAND The conversion project anticipates preservation of the island’s landscape and architectural features, these being understood as a monument of Soviet industrial architecture - a token of a bygone time and place. Transformation of the Pumping Station into a vacation home is planned as an uninvasive conversion of both site and building. The approach by car ends in the open area in front of the house, which is now covered with concrete. To the left, in the projecting part of the building is the garage. The entrance to the territory is barred with a gate, a light metal construction located on land at the end of the access road. The whole length of the mole, the perimeter of the area in front of the house and the main façade of the building are defined with pale contour lights.
On the seaward side, the island has been somewhat modified - a new yacht harbour has been built. The former pool has been divided with a metal sheet pile wall. The northwest section has been filled in and raised to create a sandy beach protected from the sea winds by the stone embankment. On the southeast side, the embankment has been opened up and a new mole has been built to serve as a breakwater. Here, is the entry to the harbour. The embankment has been raised two meters, to prevent waves from crashing against the walls of the house during autumn storms.
The entrance to the harbour is marked with blinking navigation lights – green and red. The light on the shoreward side of the island is mounted on a beacon tower constructed of red metal. Along the whole length of the building on the seaward side is a wooden deck supported on metal frames, level with the floor of the main building. The section of the deck along the harbour has been lowered to facilitate boarding. Wooden steps lead from the deck to the beach. Underneath the deck, some of the original curved water pipes have been preserved and left open. A completely new object has been built on the beach – the Bathhouse. This has been positioned at right angles to the main building, with its axis between the two windows to the left of the door leading from the main hall to the deck. The Bathhouse – the Nautilus – is connected with the deck by a sloping wooden gangway.
THE PUMP HOUSE The Pump House is opened up on the seaward side. The blind northeast façade is given large, new windows, like those in the façade facing the shore. The building is no longer a massive block, it becomes open and transparent. In the middle, on both sides, are glass doors of the same dimensions as the windows. The projecting part of the building that houses the garage has an overhead tilt door with a fanlight. The narrow, horizontal, four-pane apertures at both ends of the building have remained unchanged. The façade of the building has been covered with corten steel plates. It was important to us that the square block on the island - for many years, a prominent Kaltene landmark - keep its original reddish tone. The velvety-brown rust colour and the form of the building achieve a picturesque harmony with the delicate tonality of the Kurzeme coastal landscape with its backdrop of sea and sky, white sand and pine forest. The house can be opened or closed to the sun, the wind and the cold. All of the tall windows and doors are outfitted with sliding shutters. The shutters, like the cladding of the façade, are made of corten steel plates, but are perforated and mounted on stainless steel frames. The perforations are in the form of the Moai - the stone giants on Easter Island, downscaled 1:250 – which appear to be watching each other from opposite shutters. Architectural details and landscaping elements such as the gate and the outside lamps are also made of rusted steel. They look as if they have been there forever, corroded over the years – just like the old water pipes of the Pumping Station, which have an authentic patina.
The plan has three parts: in the centre, the full-height main hall; at one end, a two-story apartment for the parents; at the other end, four two-story apartments for the children, each with a separate bathroom. The layout of the house and the arrangement of the furnishings are simple and symmetric, as dictated by the clear-cut architecture and the simplicity of the landscape’s horizontal lines - just the sea, the sky and the shore. The projecting section on the left side of the building is the logical place for the garage and the caretaker’s apartment. The height of the former pump room (7 m) makes it possible to build mezzanine platforms. The subterranean part of the building has been covered with a reinforced concrete slab to create a basement with a low ceiling, which houses the utility room, the boiler room and the storage rooms. In the central part of the house is the main hall. It is the full height and breadth of the building, with large windows, which makes it possible to see right through the room even from the shore. It is a spacious room, with generous, clean lines: at one end, the kitchen area; at the other end, the lounging area with fireplace; in the middle, a large table. At the southeast end of the hall, in perfect symmetry with the kitchen at the opposite end, is a large, free-standing wall of shelf units. I call this area with sofa and easy chairs on a Persian rug around an open fire at the foot of the wall our “yurt.” It functions as a room within a room, a warm and sheltering refuge in the harsh island landscape. The hood of the fireplace is a black metal pyramid suspended on wire cables with counterweights, with a vertical flue pipe that pierces the roof and opens to the sky. At the left end of the Pumping Station are the parents’ two-story living quarters, accessed from the main hall. The narrow area behind the kitchen wall is used as a wardrobe. On the lower level of the parent’s apartment is the living room, with a desk under the horizontal window of the end wall and a seating group on a second Persian rug in the centre, under the platform. Stairs along the inside wall lead to the bedroom on a mezzanine platform in the centre of the room. The bathroom is a long, narrow strip the whole breadth of the building, above the wardrobe room. The southeast part of the building houses the four children’s apartments. This area is accessed through sliding doors hidden behind the freestanding wall in the main hall. The guest toilet and the laundry room are also found here. The four apartments are similar in symmetry: on the lower level, all have living rooms with seating groups along the inside wall and desks by the windows; the bedrooms and the bathrooms are located on mezzanine platforms. The sides of the metal framework platforms are set back 1 m from the exterior walls of the building, so that both levels receive light from the high windows.
The style of the interior was determined by the industrial origins of the building, as can be seen in the open constructions and the rough, untreated surfaces. The brick external walls have been lightly trowelled with lime mortar and painted white, leaving the texture of the brickwork visible. The reinforced concrete panels of the ceiling and the supporting beams have been minimally restored and left in their original condition, with only a light wash of concrete paint. The metal telpher that moves along the two load-bearing rails below the ceiling and the blue-tinted rails have simply been washed and coated with furniture wax. The rails, which run from one end of the house to the other, fulfil a number of new functions. The ceiling luminaires along both sides of the house are mounted on these rails. The free-standing wall of shelf units is held upright with the help of a new aluminium truss spanned across the rails. The pulleys for the wires and counterweights supporting the metal hood of the fireplace are also fastened to the rails.
THE BATHHOUSE The Bathhouse – the Nautilus - is located on the beach. It resembles the turret of a submarine and is clad with riveted stainless-steel plates. The strange object is an attempt at organic, sculptural expression in architectural form, a perhaps somewhat ironic version of the traditional Latvian bathhouse. It was clear from the start that the bathing and swimming facilities would have to be moved out of the house and closer to the water. We understood that the object would have to be something sculptural - different in form and material from the main house. The Bathhouse is a two-story building. Right next to the gangway are stairs leading down from the deck to the beach. The lower part of the Nautilus is sunk into the sand, and on the roof is a lookout platform with antennae. Beach equipment is stored in the lower level, the sauna with a shower and changing rooms and the loggia with a hot-tub are on the upper level. This gives anyone lying in the sauna or soaking in the hot-tub a magnificent view of the open sea. DESIGN OBJECTS An island retreat is an opportunity to live a free and easy life: no unnecessary objects, only the bare necessities – a living space absolutely free of clutter. The design of the interior is an exercise in contrasts: rough, cool industrial surfaces and perfectly finished, warm wood. The stark element is represented by the crudely finished brickwork walls, the concrete panels, the metal beams, platforms, stairs and railings, the aluminium windows. The contrast is achieved with consistent and abundant use of wood – a style borrowed from the architecture of yachts and ships. Inside the house, all wooden details are made of exotic Brazilian jatoba cherry wood: the flooring, the steps and banisters of the stairs, the floors of the platforms and the ceilings with recessed round cabin lights, the doors with portholes, the large wall of shelves. The outside deck is made of masaranduba bullet wood. The concept for the furnishings is based on highquality design that has stood the test of time. There are objects that we had discovered before and tested in some of our previous projects - and always wanted to have for ourselves. For example, my all-time favourite lamp, the Fortuny Moda lamp, which was patented by its author, Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, in 1903. But there are also objects that have more recently surprised and fascinated us – new approaches to design. For example, the Corbeille sofa, which was presented at the Milan Furniture Fair in 2006 by Edra. Many of the design objects found in the house are included in the 2006 Phaidon Design Classics encyclopaedia.
UTILITIES The Easter Island Pumping Station is an environmentally friendly object that is autonomous in regard to heating, ventilation, water supply and sewage. The only exception is electric power, although we had initially hoped to produce power with a wind generator. The idea has been put on hold until government support is made available for individually produced electric power.
The buildings are heated with help of a ground-source heat pump that takes energy from an artesian drill hole.
Natural air exchange is provided by ventilation ducts in the chimneys of the Pumping Station. The rooms in the basement and the main hall are ventilated through the original pipes of the pumping system installed below the ground level of the island.
Water is drawn from a 70 m deep artesian well located in the beach zone. Sewage is biologically treated. The biological purification tank is buried on the south end of the island, the purified water is drained into the ground.
At the end of the mole is a transformer substation that provides the island with power. Power cables run under the surface of the mole from the transformer station to the basement of the main building. A 32 kW generator has also been installed in the basement to provide electricity in the case of a power failure. The fuel supply is sufficient for seven days.